Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pulau SongSong

A couple of weeks ago I went to Pulau SongSong, located just off the coast of Kedah in Peninsular Malaysia. For the King’s birthday we had a Wednesday off and I jumped at the chance to get off of this rock and onto another one. I went with about a dozen other people and we hired two boats from Batu Ferringi. The ride out was great as the wind was blowing in our faces and the cool clear morning was beginning. Along the way we saw many fishermen and smaller island and each time I thought we might be arriving. It took us about an hour to get there and once we had unloaded the boats took off to find other work for the day. With no agenda we mostly swam, snorkeled, had lunch, had a couple beers, took a nap, played in the sand and relaxed. The beach itself was nice, but littered with debris, mostly plastic. Earlier in the year a group of our students had come to clean the beach and I heard that they had left with 15 large trash bags, but you would have never known it looking at the beach. Still it was a nice day away and riding the swells on the way back was also quite fun. As I arrived home sunburned, tired, and sandy I was happy that I had taken the time to visit Pulau SongSong and thought that I may go back again if the opportunity arises.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Down to the Wire in Malaysian Election

Though Malaysia has a king which follows a line of hereditary ascension AND is elected Malaysia is mostly modeled on a parliamentary system. Despite the availability of Malaysians to elect leaders, more or less the same party has been in power since Malaysian independence 55 years ago. Barisan Nasional formed in 1973 as the successor to the Alliance is the ruling party and it has been that party or say coalition in charge as long as most Malaysians can remember. This party is mostly ethnic Malay and indigenous people which make up about 60% of Malaysia’s population. Interestingly, especially where I live in Penang, there are a lot of ethnically Chinese Malaysians often called the Straits Chinese (at least in Penang). In the last election BN was upset by the winning of other parties on a scale large enough to set up opposition parties in state governments. Penang being one of those as it is ruled by the Democratic Action Party (DAP) which is largely an ethnically Chinese party and part of the Pakatan Rakyat, an alliance between three parties including two others which Islamic leanings. This election is expected to be even more contentious and though BN is expected to win the overall election the margin is set to be close. Penang will almost certainly remain in DAP control, but who knows about other states.
BN has certainly been making an effort here in Penang. Last week they held a free banquet in Batu Ferringi which I heard hosted 3,000 people. I have heard that they are giving away free grain and other goodies to communities, especially ethnic Indians, in the hopes that it will sway voters their way.
Personally I hope the alliance wins more seats. BN has an ok record, but the racism and corruption are too much. I was talking with one of my students the other day, an ethnically Indian girl, who told me she had gotten a scholarship to a local college but choose instead to come pay for our school because after college she had little chance of getting into a university in Malaysia. When I looked up the statistics I saw she was right. 70% of slots are allotted to ethnically Malay while they make up only 50% of the population. This kind of overt racism, touted as a way to help the under-achieving Malay population, hasn’t worked. In addition, I need only look to the efforts on the part of BN to buy votes to see the corruption, but I’m sure that issue goes much deeper.
Last night my friend and I stocked up at the grocery store for what could potentially be a few days at home. The election is contentious enough in our state that our school even put out an announcement that Monday would possibly be a holiday if rioting occurred. I’m hoping that no one gets hurt of course, but it sure would be interesting if that were to occur.  Probably the most interesting thing for me is that the rioting may not occur along party lines, but racial ones.